Experts: Six questions after Lakers-Heat
Lakers versus Heat lived up to the hype. And then some. Our experts break it down:
1. Big game or just another game?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: In a world of Hollinger Power Rankings and strength of schedule, quality of opponent matters. Big.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Big game for the Heat. Stops the national media from dissecting every play and plotting Erik Spoelstra's firing at least for 24 hours.
Kevin Arnovitz, Heat Index: Big game for the Heat but just another game on a long road trip for the Lakers. The Heat desperately needed to shake off the corrosive effects that set in around the team during the losing streak. The Lakers don't have to prove anything to themselves or the league. They didn't play particularly well but almost escaped with a win.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: Very big game for the Heat. This team was reeling, buckling under the pressure of having lost so many close games, of having failed to beat elite teams. The Heat crushed -- OK, dented -- both those mental blocks in one fell swoop. All is not well now, but this win was just what the doctor ordered, exactly what they needed.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Bigger for Miami than L.A. The Heat just needed to win a game again more than anything else. The significance of this game for the Lakers comes only if they finish a game behind Dallas in the race for the West's No. 2 seed.
Arash Markazi, ESPN Los Angeles: It was a big game for the Heat. If you listened to Chris Bosh after the game, you would have thought it was a postseason elimination game for Miami.
I wouldn't go so far as to say it was "just another game" for the Lakers. They certainly wanted to win after being embarrassed at home on Christmas Day. But they didn't read too much into the result after the game; claiming their upcoming game against Dallas is more important.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: Oh, this was a big game, all right, more so for the Heat than the Lakers, for several reasons: The Heat needed to stop the bleeding and stop it immediately. They had been having the life sucked out of them over the course of that losing streak, Crygate and the cumulative effect of so many missed chances to win close games.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: H-u-g-e game just because of what it meant to Miami. Can't think of another single-game situation that could have restored as much mojo-wise as that one did for the Heat. It obviously doesn't erase all those previous losses to elite teams and in close games, but it was worth way more than one win.
2. What's your take on the Heat's performance?
Abbott: Good enough. The non-star guards finally looked decent. Mike Miller's putbacks, Mike Bibby's 3s and Mario Chalmers' Dwyane Wade-like pesky D were just what the doctor ordered. I'm still not convinced Erick Dampier can play long minutes on a title team.
Adande: They got everything they'd been lacking: strong play from Chris Bosh and the bench plus a better late-game performance as a result of letting Wade start the offense.
Arnovitz: Even though LeBron James logged one of his least impressive games of the season and Wade struggled for three quarters, the Heat accomplished a lot of what they wanted to offensively. Bosh made a loud public declaration to get the ball, and sure enough, "feed Bosh" was one of the team's more successful tactics on Thursday. The Heat wanted to prove they could close a game, and with Wade at the controls, they got that done, too.
Broussard: The Heat were impressive. Half-court offensive execution, which had been horrible, was terrific. They established Bosh down low and had great ball movement; neither LeBron nor Wade dominated the ball. Bench and role players stepped up. This was what we had expected when Heat came together.
Hollinger: I was encouraged that their offense had a lot more motion, and in particular, I don't remember LeBron running his usual pick-and-retreat-to-half-court even once -- instead, there were more quick-hitting plays and fewer isos.
Markazi: It was huge not only that the Heat won but also the way they won. They came from behind in the fourth quarter and won a close game against a top-five opponent. That's something they simply haven't been able to do this season.
Winning in the fashion they did was actually more important than if they had won in a blowout. Now they and the rest of the league know Miami can win a close game against a championship team.
Sheridan: Wade looked like a man who wanted to take back control of his team down the stretch, making four of its final six buckets and working well with LeBron on several plays. A key stat: Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a plus-16, while Erick Dampier was a minus-10.
Stein: The Heat finally showed us so many of the things we've been waiting to see. They played with a real sense of urgency. Erik Spoelstra made offensive adjustments that he hadn't previously wanted to make by running more stuff out of the high post and letting more guys touch the ball. And D-Wade was the crunch-time point man.
3. What's your take on Kobe's performance?
Abbott: Idea: The vast majority of the NBA's poor shot selection is the work of superstar wings. That includes players like Wade, James and Bryant. Who else gets to miss seven in a row and keep shooting?
Adande: He's lucky he has had so many winning performances in the past; otherwise, he'd be defined by his poor shot selection and turnovers in the fourth quarter of this showcase game.
Arnovitz: It certainly wasn't unprecedented. With the Heat containing the Lakers up front, Kobe took it upon himself to robo-shoot the Lakers to a win. Sometimes he succeeds, and sometimes he doesn't, as was the case Thursday night. Both his shot selection and playmaking were sloppy, and that petulance that often fuels him led him into a series of bad decisions.
Broussard: Kobe took a couple of quick 3s, which were ill-advised, but I'm not going to kill him. He couldn't beat Wade off the dribble, for the most part, and settled almost exclusively for jumpers. But he hit some big 3s, too. Not a great performance, obviously, but not alarmingly bad in any way.
Hollinger: I'm talking more about this in my PER Diem column on Friday, but he played perfectly well for 46 minutes, then went into hero mode in the final two with disastrous consequences for his team.
Markazi: Kobe thinks he can hit any shot he attempts and defiantly stuck to that opinion after the game even after being criticized for two long 3-pointers that were ill-advised attempts even if they had gone in. Combine that with another bad turnover in the closing minutes, and Bryant was the easy go-to goat after the game for a Lakers team that unraveled late much as the Heat have done in close games this season.
Sheridan: Vintage Kobe with the two big 3s down the stretch (4:08 and 2:26), but then an uncharacteristic turnover (on Wade's steal late in the fourth) and the missed 3-pointer on which he claims he was fouled. If I'm a Lakers fan, I'm glad I have that guy in my corner for the playoffs.
Stein: No one can be as hard on Kobe as he is on himself, but you can understand why he's so angry. The Lakers had an opportunity to take an h-u-g-e divot out of what's left of the Heat's collective confidence. Instead? Kobe and Phil Jackson have been two of the few NBA big hitters who've been saying that the Heat should not be written off this season and L.A. just had a hand in breathing new life into that team.
4. What's your take on Kobe's postgame practice session?
Abbott: His determination not to be outworked is why he would, no doubt, succeed at just about anything. That he's not a blogger helps my job security.
Adande: It's who he is, dedicated and calculated. You realize that arena has a practice court that's much more private, don't you? Still, of all the stories about a star player that could emerge from a late night in Miami, this is the one teams would prefer.
Arnovitz: It's interesting to observe how Kobe has been informed by Jackson in the art of signaling. That's not to say that Bryant's work ethic isn't sincere or admirable -- few, if any, pros work harder at their craft than Kobe does. But the context, orchestration and choice of venue can't be ignored. Kobe wanted to send a message as much as he wanted to improve his jump shot.
Broussard: Impressive. He was frustrated -- with his own play and with the team's play. Wanted to shake it off. Shows his Jordanesque competitiveness that he took a regular-season loss so hard. Could've easily just written it off as a bad night or the inevitable end of a streak. Instead, he wanted to immediately make sure he's ready for the next game versus Dallas.
Hollinger: A scripted sideshow that the media lapped up as though it was a free milkshake.
Markazi: It was perhaps one of the most surreal experiences that reporters have experienced covering Bryant. Word first spread that he was back on the court shooting after media availability, and one by one, we filed back to the court to see for ourselves. Soon, a 20-minute session turned into an hour-and-20-minute session as we wrote our stories courtside with Bryant shooting in front of us. When we talk about Bryant's work ethic, this will be the moment most of us will point to as an example moving forward.
Sheridan: Since I wasn't there, it's hard to get a good reading on it from afar. It certainly was not his first postgame shooting session to rid himself of his anger, but the cynic in me can't help wondering how much of it was an attention-grabbing ploy. The fact that he texted a reporter afterward feeds that cynicism.
Stein: Priceless. Vintage Kobe. So many possible meanings and motivations that you can't be sure how many messages he was trying to send.
Most of all? Another tasty chapter you couldn't make up in a regular season that's been fantastic, all setting us up for a postseason that should be sensational. The thought of a long lockout is truly sickening. The NBA is in such a good place right now. No clear-cut favorite. Three contenders in each conference. Anything can happen in the playoffs. How can they shut this down?
5. Fact and/or Fiction: The Heat seem more dangerous after Thursday night and the Lakers less dangerous.
Abbott: Fiction. It's just one game. They were two of the NBA's seven contenders before, and that's just what they are now.
Adande: Fiction. The Heat still haven't beaten any of the top teams in the East, which is much more relevant. And while this was the most hyped game of the Lakers' trip, the bookend games in San Antonio and Dallas are the most important.
Arnovitz: Fiction. A single game makes for a lousy sample. The Heat were a dangerous team before they beat the Lakers, and they remain so. The fact that they've identified a few more arrows in the quiver should encourage them.
Meanwhile, the Lakers left Miami in the same manner they arrived -- as reigning champions. Had they performed a modicum of the work they usually do on the glass, we'd be having a different conversation.
Broussard: Fact that the Heat seem more dangerous. We saw that when they play the right way (ball movement, post play, no one dominating the ball, bench/role player production), they can play with anyone.
Fiction that the Lakers are less dangerous. It was just one regular-season loss. This game wasn't as big for them as it was for the Heat.
Hollinger: Fiction. It's a regular-season game. I'd be relieved if I were Miami and a bit worried about Kobe's late-game proclivity for low-percentage shots if I were the Lakers, but we probably won't remember much about this game in May and June.
Markazi: Fiction. It was a good win for the Heat, but it was just one win that broke their five-game losing streak and snapped the Lakers' eight-game winning streak. Both streaks were destined to come to an end sooner or later, and they did on the same night. Perhaps we can stop worrying about the Heat as much as we have been, but this loss shouldn't change anyone's opinions of the Lakers come playoff time.
Sheridan: Fiction. Although it was a big game for the Heat more than it was for the Lakers, the final 10-second factor (they are 1-for-18 in tying or go-ahead shots in those situations) did not come into play. They start looking legitimately dangerous when they make a couple of those. The Lakers will be a bear to beat in a seven-game series. Nothing that happened Thursday night changes that.
Stein: Fiction. The second half of that sentence makes it fiction. The Lakers aren't 1 percent less dangerous.
6. If these teams meet in the Finals, who will win?
Arnovitz: Miami. I'm still betting that, in the next 12 weeks, the Heat will crack the code and fully realize their collective potential.
Broussard: Miami. The Heat match up well with L.A. Kobe can't dominate his matchup (Wade), as he does almost nightly. The Heat bigs can hold their own against the Lakers' bigs, who are mainly finesse. (Andrew Bynum's rugged, to a degree.) Derek Fisher can't exploit Miami's point guards and wreak havoc by penetrating the paint. The Lakers have no answer to slowing LeBron down.
Hollinger: If it started today, I'd uneasily pick L.A.
Markazi: The Lakers. Yes, I know the Heat won both regular-season games, but I don't think that over the course of a seven-game series, the Heat will be able to match the Lakers' size and depth.
Sheridan: The Lakers, on their size advantage, Kobe's desire (especially to redeem himself for his 6-for-24 night in Game 7 versus Boston in June) and Ron Artest's ferocity on defense.
Stein: Lakers. L.A.'s size would swing it. But let's hope Miami's two regular-season wins mean it would be a much better series than all of us know-it-alls would have projected on Wednesday.
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